This was originally titled, 'Everything is sweeta in Cahuita.' I could have kept that title. It's not altogether inaccurate, it's not entirely contradicted by experience, but experience informs. Don't get me wrong, the place is magic. But it's a rough magic. I guess that's just the way of things.
Note: A number of nice kossacks donated to our Saint Fred recovery program in my last diary and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. I don't like to ask, and our needs are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but thank you. We were able to cover our transitional lodging and first months rent on the new place in Cahuita by ourselves but I was starting to get a little panicked about food and such. We should make it just fine now. Thank you again.
After fleeing the Irie Zone, we took up residence in a hotel/hostel in Puerto Viejo called Kaya's place. It was nice. It was from there that we reached out to a new friend and found our way to Cahuita. As we waited for the new place to be ready, we enjoyed Puerto Viejo.
Dreadlock Rasta, Puerto Viejo.
Outback Jack's, Puerto Viejo.
Trippy wall art at Kaya's Place, Puerto Vieo.
Ferria (farmer's market), Puerto Viejo, next 4 pics.
Daniel at Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo.
Knee deep in the Caribbean, Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo.
Nearly three months in for mijo and two for me and we're starting to get the hang of this Costa Rican thing...we think. It pays to be wary. Hustlers and thieves are the dark underbelly of what is otherwise a beautiful country, gorgeous in fact.
But it's a tough place to make a living. Tourism is both a blessing and a plague. It is a major portion of the economy, but it's seasonal and sometimes maybe a bit of a struggle prying thrifty travelers from their hard earned money. Everybody wants to look, nobody wants to buy. It just can't be easy. And they make what they make in high season and hope it's enough to get them through low season. You see a lot of grim looks on the faces of those trying to sell crap to tourists – it's not all crap of course. And some of the businesses do pretty well. But it's gotta be a tough way of making a living. A lot of people live on little or nothing. And in many places most people are skating very close to the edge.
You can survive on coconuts and fruit from the jungle, and you'll never freeze sleeping out on the beach or wherever, but it's a hard way to live. “Hard but good,” said my new friend, Roland.
There are a lot people like Roland here. Of course homelessness is everywhere. It may be easier to be homeless here than many other places, though probably not by all that much.
I don't mean to characterize all Costa Ricans, but I do think that for many of them, there is something of a love/hate thing going on with tourism and tourists. I know that gringos in particular are problematic at least for some Costa Ricans. I don't say ticos because not all Costa Ricans are ticos. In the Caribbean coastal region where we are now, ticos may be outnumbered by people of Jamaican, African or Aboriginal descent. And then there are those from elsewhere in Central America and expats from all over the world, many of whom have been here for decades.
The friction between tourists and locals is something you see anywhere there is tourism. I think a big part of that is the cultural dislocation involved. Tourists, almost by definition, are operating in a culture other than the one they are actually in. Typically, they don't have time to adjust before heading back home. This is problematic in many ways. They are too often wrapped up in their own experience and blithely ignoring what's not on the agenda. Also, many travelers are experiencing significant stress and many are rude assholes on a good day. Resentments build. And gringos (alla y'all from the US), in particular, haven't had much good press lately. Most people think we stink on ice. Who can blame them?
Lately I've been taking stock. Meteor Blades was dead on the money when he said jungle living is hard. The jungle takes shit off of nobody. Corporate rainforest-gobbling monstrosities aside, people are small things to the jungle. Small, edible and biodegradable things. So of course I moved to the jungle. My address involves a somewhat elaborate description along with distance estimates in meters but otherwise no numbers or street names. I have no zip code and receiving mail is risky business, a fool's errand really. Even Amazon doesn't deliver here.
A painted eucalyptus tree near our new home in Cahuita.
Once you plunk down in the jungle, things change. You're tolerance for bugs goes way up and your requirements for daily living go way down. It's cool though. At all hours, there are sounds coming from the jungle that are mesmerizing, ethereal, weirdly beautiful. Many of them sounds you've heard before in movies or documentaries but can't identify. All manner of squawks, tweets, coos and screeches...haunting, plaintiff, mournful sounds and several variations on a lunatic's lament. As background ambiance it weaves a powerful spell. It's primal. The jungle is alive.
These are leaf cutter ants at work.
Here are the trails they make. Can you imagine how many tiny ant steps it takes to do this?
Here's my first iguana pic.
And here's a lizard I see frequently.
Ah but the howler monkeys are what bring it all together. Every morning around 4:00 am. Though it can happen anytime really. These howlers (it's more of a roar imo) are always ready to party. Sometimes they are quiet and laid back and sometimes they roar. Who knows what sets them off? Loud little suckers. I don't mind them though.
We have a bird here that bothers me more than the howlers. I'm too lazy to look up what they are so I've taken to calling them Yellow-Bellied Bastards. I'm not really too lazy to look it up, I just doubt I'd like the real name any better. I invite the more ornithologically informed to chip in with better data. They are disproportionately loud – and they chase off other birds too, real little bullies these guys.
A Yellow-Bellied Bastard.
They chase the little blue fellas particularly.
I have no idea what this strange looking fellow is. They are fairly large with bright yellow trim on their tail feathers.
I saw this guy early one morning. I won't venture a guess as to what he is. Please chime in if you know.
I think this is the same fellow later that afternoon, near dusk.
We also have parrots, or parrotas. Here are a pair at dusk.
But the Toucans, ah the Toucans. Coolest birds ever – which is just like my opinion, man.
Toucans are everywhere here and you see them all the time but for the photographer they are elusive. Usually you see them flying away, and they fly fast, or very high in the upper canopy. It can be hard to get a good look at one.
There's one kind here that I haven't managed to photograph. It's a bit smaller and brilliantly colored. I've seen them many times but never a shot. I'm desperate for a picture of one of these guys. They're beautiful. They're winged fauvist paintings. Just the trippiest little things.
Speaking of photography and missed opportunities, while I almost always have my camera slung around my neck, yesterday I biked into town (2 or 3 miles each way) without it. I was going to withdraw some money from the bank teller and pick up a load of laundry and was worried about a: having room for everything on the bike (the laundry, not the money), and b: the sheer physical exertion of the journey, given the distance, the rough road conditions, my lack of recent experience with bicycles, the equatorial sun and my general physical condition – though that is getting better. The jungle likes to toughen you up before it kills you.
Anyway, the ATM (the only ATM in all of metropolitan Cahuita) was out of order. I picked up the laundry and headed back to the house. Two thirds of the way back, a sloth crawled out into the road right in front of me, very slowly. If I'd had my camera, I'd have gotten some incredible pictures. Close up, they are visually quite interesting. Usually you see them at a distance up in a tree where they look like big lumps of soggy shag carpet. I could have filled my camera with pics of this guy and they would have been some really good ones. Sigh.
There are photo ops everywhere. I hate when I miss a good one. That sloth was so cool. I'll get one of those rainbow Toucans too.
The house we've rented is large and sits on a hectare of land. It comes with a guy who cuts the grass and cleans the yard which is good because it's a lot more work than I would volunteer for. We have potable well water and a hot water on demand system. It's the only one I've seen in Costa Rica and it's pretty sweet. We went for a long time there without hot water or in some cases without water at all.
It came with coconuts, bananas and a dog.
View of my room and the stairs from the kitchen.
Most places we've been had what are called suicide showers. They have electrical elements that heat the water in the shower head as it passes through. It's sometimes rather shocking, hence 'suicide shower.' The dial is counter-intuitive, the less you turn it the hotter the water gets, crank it up and it gets colder as the water spends less time passing over the heating element. Surprisingly, they typically don't work that well and have underwhelming water pressure. You get used to it. But it makes me appreciate what we've got here, hot water on demand with good pressure. That's a luxury in this part of the world. We lucked up when we found this place. It is large, well outfitted and gloriously situated in a jungle that's as beautiful as jungle gets. And it's a five minute walk to the beach. You can hear the crashing waves from here.
The black sand beach at Playa Negra, just down the road (all black sand beaches are called Playa Negra – there is one in Puerto Viejo and this one near us in Cahuita).
The down sides are mosquitos, fleas, no-see-ums and a two-and-a-half-acre yard that grows at the frenetic pace one might expect of a yard smack in the middle of the jungle, aka the rainforest. And snakes. There are snakes. So far I've only seen one - a baby. It was maybe 9 inches long and slender, dark colored with small lighter marking on each side of the head, which I believe was rounded, not triangular, it was hard to tell because it was moving so fast, so probably not poisonous. But ya never know, and we have much yet to learn about the neighborhood.
We know that there are Terciopelos here, aka the Fer-de-Lance, the most dangerous snake anywhere in Costa Rica. They are aggressive if disturbed. They are not snakes one wants to step on, touch or poke with a stick. We keep an eye out for them and we don't go out after dark without a flashlight. Haven't seen one. There are also Coral snakes, much less aggressive but still not to be stepped on, and I believe one other.
Snakebites are rare but not rare enough. They do have a well-organized, national snakebite treatment program that trains first responders and stocks clinics with the antivenin. They have an antivenin that is said to work for any poisonous snake in the country. I'd prefer to take their word on that and not find out the hard way. The bite of the Tercieopelo is said to be especially unpleasant.
So, we continue to adjust and adapt. We find much to love in the new place. It's too early to tell with any degree of certainty, but it's starting to feel like home.